Teacher Resources While Social Distancing

By Amanda Dorris
March 27, 2020

Empowering student-centered learning in new ways

Never have my two worlds collided in such a big way. I have worked in education research for the last 20 years and spent the last several curating the Students at the Center resource database part-time. The rest of my hours are spent raising two delightful AND infuriating elementary-age children. Now with schools closed due to covid-19, I find myself in the middle trying to be their teacher. I am digging through my art supplies to find magnets to build a compass and struggling to log into that app my friend suggested while my husband and I work from home.

There’s so much available online to help educators, families, and students optimize their learning amid so many unknowns, but information overload isn’t helping any of us bring our stress levels down. I hit my information overload point last night while reading my 100th article, which just happened to be about avoiding information overload during online collaborations!

So, I am advocating we collectively take a big breath in and step back to consider the big picture of what we want and need to get out of this potentially lengthy period of school closures. My professional self and my parent-self tell me the same thing.

We need to make this experience as student-centered as we can so that we empower our learners to:

  • let their curiosity and passions lead their learning
  • be creative and make things
  • connect home learning to the outside world
  • raise their voice
  • build and maintain relationships
  • direct their own learning

To help us all over the coming weeks, I’ve organized some of the resources through this student-centered lens and offered some thoughts for educators from a parent stuck at home. If you’re in the mood to dive in, read on! If you need to figure out why someone is crying about the wrong pipe cleaners, come visit our resources when you can.

At the end of the day, our goal should be to keep our kids engaged and excited about learning, supported by their peers and their families, connected with their communities and the wider world so they, and we, come out of this experience strengthened rather than depleted.

It will take a lot of coffee and creativity and some attention to our own self-care, but parents and teachers will make great strides if we focus on the tenets of student-centered learning. Now, if I could only find those magnets rolling around in the bottom of my art bin. 🙂

Setting the Stage:

Some set-up is needed for meaningful distance learning to occur. Families will need support in order to be partners in their children’s learning and educators will need to provide both structure and flexibility for families who are juggling many priorities.

Planning with a Student-Centered Lens:

Supporting student choice

In the absence of the structure of a typical school day, learners need to be engaged and excited about the learning they are doing at home. Being at home without school bells allows a unique opportunity to follow up on topics of interest and take an inquisitive mind down some meandering paths.

Fostering creativity and production

Schools across the country have been embracing the maker-space movement, fostering problem-solving and creative thinking. Projects teachers can guide remotely could range from building a bridge from toothpicks to creating a new recipe or writing a song.

Making real-world connections

It may seem hard to connect to the real world when students are stuck inside but this can be done in different ways. Virtual field trips and sites, featuring live streaming, such as zoos or a weather station can be tied to the curriculum.

Raising student voice

Feeling heard will be particularly important for our learners when so many things in the world feel out of one’s control. Finding authentic ways for students to share their work may feel like more of a challenge than usual, but there are some creative options.

  • KQED Learn
    This free tool allows students across the country to connect and discuss current topics and share video and written commentaries.

Strengthening relationships

Building strong relationships is critical for students who may be feeling isolated. There are many ideas for using technology to connect kids with each other. Keeping equitable access in our sites, educators can also suggest ideas to stay connected over the phone for learners who have less access to technology.

Empowering students and parents

Students who feel like they are driving their own learning will stay engaged. For educators, this can be an opportunity to pull them into the learning process and build partnerships between students and their parents that will carry into future years. 

Using Technology to Implement Distance Learning:

If educators first take the time to consider the type of student-centered learning experiences we want for our students, then we can choose the technology that will support our goals and help parents achieve them.

  • Learning Keeps Going
    A coalition of education organizations has curated strategies, tips and best practices for teaching online during the coronavirus pandemic. The site includes a resource database.
  • The Distance Learning Resource Center
    This is a list of virtual learning resources that are learner-centered. Resources are divided into learning resources and resources for parents, teachers and communities.


Amanda Dorris currently curates the Students at the Center resource database. She has served in education research and development for 20 years on projects ranging from working with middle schools to build college knowledge for immigrant families to high school curriculum for law and justice-themed academies.  She holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a B.A from Wellesley College. At home she is building with her Lego obsessed 8-year-old, drawing fairies with her 6-year-old or reading late into the night.

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